Transcript - Parliament House Doorstop

7:48AM

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, good morning all and delighted to be announcing with Andrew Gee, the Decentralisation Minister, today, an incentive to get businesses to move to country areas. $50 million as part of the quarter of a billion-dollar Building Better Regions Fund working with communities, working with councils, to incentivise those small businesses, those wonderful little private enterprise – paying less tax under us, the lowest tax rate since 1940 – but we want to get them to move out of the metropolitan areas into the regions, because we know and COVID-19 has taught us, that regional Australia is the best place in all of the world, the most COVID free, the most COVID safe. Of course, 43,000 Australians took that decision to move to a regional area during 2020. The Australian Bureau of Statistics identified it was the biggest increase of metropolitan Australians moving to regional areas in a year since they’ve been taking those statistics over a two-decade period. So, I’m delighted to be with Minister Gee today announcing this and promoting this and encouraging those businesses to look at that program under the Building Better Regions Fund, working with local councils in country areas to make that move.

JOURNALIST

Speaking of incentives, shouldn’t we be offering people lottery tickets, free beers, doughnuts, gym memberships, just to get a vaccine?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I know Professor Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer, has mused about this and look, we’ll see. All the way through the Federal Government has been listening to the community, listening to the states, listening to people and tweaking the sorts of measures that we’ve put in place. The measures that we have put in place have protected the economy. The measures that we have put in place, more importantly, have protected Australians’ health. And all the way through we’ve looked at the measures we’ve put in place – a la JobKeeper, JobSeeker and all those other very important programs – and we’ve tweaked them, we’ve changed them, we’ve extended them to adapt to the changing conditions. There’s no manual you can pull down from a shelf and say this is how we address this issue when it comes to COVID-19. There was no manual ever written. So, all the way through we’ve been meeting those expectations and delivering.

JOURNALIST

Shouldn’t an incentive be enough, that you don’t die?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course. I mean, we don’t want anyone to die, not here, not anywhere. And this has been a tragic situation which has claimed millions of lives and that’s why we have put in place the right health measures. That’s why we have put in place the right economic measures to keep people alive, to keep people safe. Health protection of course, is number one, absolutely number one. And making sure that we incentivise businesses to keep their doors open and keep employing people is an important add-on to that. We want to keep the economy going.

JOURNALIST

Should the vaccine rollout be extended to under 50s urgently, as Bill Shorten has suggested, particularly given the new outbreak in Melbourne?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I appreciate too, that the states have a large role to play in this and South Australia and Queensland have gone down that path. Look, we will continue to work with states. I appreciate there’s a National Cabinet meeting on Friday week. I appreciate the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee offers its advice, provides us that advice. We follow that advice all the way through. That’s what we’ve done. The roll out – well, 3.5 million Australians have already got their jab. We want Australians to turn up to their GP clinics, turn up to their pharmacies and get the jab. At the moment there are bookings available for those Australians to do just that.

JOURNALIST

Is the Federal Government’s phased roll out now pointless if states are going to go their own way? New South Wales is going 40 to 49, South Australia is going people above 16 in regional areas.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We work with states. We want to make sure that Australians get vaccinated. That’s the important thing. At the moment I’m getting –

JOURNALIST

So, it will be up to the states, then, to roll it out to under 50, potentially open the flood gates to anybody who wants a vaccine?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve got a strategy in place. We’re making sure that we, of course, follow that strategy. But the whole way through –

JOURNALIST

States have got their strategy – 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, indeed and states have got their own contact tracking and tracing as well and I see that overnight, unfortunately, there’s been a slight outbreak in Victoria and that’s very, very unfortunate. I know that state public health authorities down there will be making sure that they act very quickly to nip that in the bud. Look, this a difficult situation and Australians need to be alert not alarmed. They need to make sure that they get their vaccine for themselves, for their families, for their communities and for those people they’ve never met.

JOURNALIST

But, hang on, who’s leading this vaccine roll out? The states are going one way, you’re saying that you’ve still got a phased roll out but the states could run their own program. Who’s in charge of the operation?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee provides us advice. We’re following that advice. We’re getting the vaccine out. DHL, for instance, has travelled 17.5 million kilometres to get the vaccines rolled out across regional Australia. Last week 56 pharmacies in, particularly North Queensland were identified as locations where Australians, Queenslanders, North Queenslanders, can go and get the vaccination. This is important that states will be working with the Commonwealth to make sure we get the vaccinations out to Australians and to encourage them to get vaccinated.

JOURNALIST

If you’re thinking of encouraging more people and looking at that under 50 age to get the vaccine, should we not be thinking about a national campaign and an ad campaign to get more people encouraged?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, indeed, we could well do that. And, like I say, the whole way through we’ve made sure that we’ve put in place the measures to encourage Australians, to invest in Australia, to invest in regional Australia. Whether it’s been JobSeeker, whether it’s been JobKeeper, HomeBuilder, the whole way through we’ve provided the health measures, the economic measures to protect Australia and to make sure that our country can get through this pandemic. The Budget was all about making sure that we get Australia through the recovery process and we’re a long way – a long way – from where we would like to be. Absolutely, the situation is still dire. Millions of people have died and hundreds of thousands of people are getting affected and infected overseas each and every day. Of course, so this is a difficult situation. The Australian Government, we’ve done our very best and Australia is the envy of the world when other nations look at us and they just wish they were somewhere near where we are as far as health outcomes and economic outcomes.

JOURNALIST

The latest report into the Leppington Triangle purchase released yesterday found that the Infrastructure Department was maybe more interested in keeping the owners of Leppington Pastoral Company happy than actually getting value for money for the taxpayers. Are you concerned by that and what’s the latest, I guess, updates on that other investigation into that purchase? There was an AFP investigation, there was a couple of other ones all at the same time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the Senate inquiry yesterday also cleared the officials in the Infrastructure Department of any suggested wrongdoing. So, they’ve made that very clear. We’re getting on with building Western Sydney’s first airport. It’s going to be a major project and I actually encourage the media to go there and have a look at this project. Because, yes, while there obviously, the Leppington Triangle was very interesting and of course, you know, the situation there was disturbing in one sense, what is actually being built there is going to transform Western Sydney. It’s going to transform aviation and many years down the track people will look back at this point in time now and say the Commonwealth has done the right thing by building this airport. Labor, well, they just procrastinated about it – for years. Labor would never have built the Western Sydney Nancy-Bird Walton International Airport. Never. So, let’s just park that. We are building it and they’re moving millions of tonnes of dirt around making sure that we build what is going to be the pride of the aviation industry right throughout the world.

JOURNALIST

Is Australia preparing to shut down its embassy in Kabul, and what kind of presence will Australia have in the region?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that situation is obviously being sorted out. We’ve made the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and of course, we will work through that with Home Affairs, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We’ll make sure that of course, we keep close diplomatic ties with Afghanistan. This has been a conflict which has been Australia’s largest and longest. Of course, we mourn for those more than 40 men who lost their lives serving our country and making sure that for Afghanistan there were better outcomes, particularly for young girls who can now go to school thanks to the service and sacrifice of our soldiers. Young women who can now get a job, can have a tertiary education thanks to our involvement in that long and deadly conflict. We’ve been able to make Afghanistan a better place in which to live. Yes, it has come at a high price. It’s come at a high cost, but when I talk to people like Doug Baird whose son Cameron went through Kapooka at Wagga Wagga, served our nation, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross and gave up his life so that others could have a better life, we think of those people and we mourn for them every day. Thank you very much.

ENDS 7:58AM

Media contacts:

Caitlin Donaldson, 0428 389 880

Jock Rice-Ward, 0417 837 565